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(LEAD) Lotte family trial begins over corporate crime allegations

2017/03/20 15:00

(ATTN: UPDATES with beginning of trial; CHANGES photos)

SEOUL, March 20 (Yonhap) -- Retail giant Lotte Group's Chairman Shin Dong-bin and his four other family members, all indicted last October for alleged embezzlement and other crimes, showed up in their first trial at a Seoul court Monday.

Chairman Shin; his older brother and former vice chairman of Tokyo-based Lotte Holdings Shin Dong-joo; and their father and group founder Shin Kyuk-ho appeared at the Seoul Central District Court to attend the trial at 2 p.m.

(From left: Shin Kyuk-ho, Shin Dong-bin, Shin Dong-joo and Seo Mi-kyung. (Yonhap) (From left: Shin Kyuk-ho, Shin Dong-bin, Shin Dong-joo and Seo Mi-kyung. (Yonhap)

"I am sorry for causing concerns," Chairman Shin told reporters as he arrived at the court, declining to elaborate further. "I will faithfully go through the court proceedings."

   After a four-month investigation into the country's fifth-largest conglomerate, prosecutors indicted the three people five months ago on multiple charges, including embezzlement and breach of trust, involving some tens of billions of won of corporate assets.

The group founder's daughter Shin Young-ja and his third wife, Seo Mi-kyung, also appeared at the court to stand trial on charges of tax evasion.

The Shin family's disgraceful court appearance came as Lotte Group, particularly its business in China, has been severely battered by Beijing's economic retaliations against South Korea for allowing the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system. Lotte offered a golf course in southeast South Korea to be used as the missile site.

Separately, Lotte Group has been embroiled in the allegations of bribery involving former President Park Geun-hye, as the conglomerate is accused of providing a huge sum of money to two foundations allegedly controlled by her arrested friend Choi Soon-sil.

It is rare in South Korea for key members of a conglomerate owner's family to stand trial together.

It was the first public appearance by Seo, as the former actress and model has been avoiding media for decades. She was put on trial without going through a face-to-face interrogation by prosecutors, as she rejected multiple summons.

The court earlier warned that it will issue an arrest warrant if she does not attend the hearing, which is mandatory for all defendants.

Shin Young-ja was sentenced to three years in prison by the same court in January for embezzlement and breach of trust in the first ruling against members of the family running the business group.

Along with the family, a number of former and current executives of the group will stand trial for their alleged involvement in the irregularities.